Dell Comics originally got its start in pulp magazines, but published comics from 1929 to 1973. At its peak, Dell was the most successful American company in the medium. By 1953, Dell claimed to be the world's largest comic publisher, selling 26 million copies each month.
Its first title to feature original material was The Funnies, but since it was published in a larger tabloid format, it is not recognized as such. In 1938 the company formed a partnership with Western Publishing, with Dell being responsible for financing and distributing publications that Western produced. While this diverged from the standard practice within the industry, it was a highly successful enterprise with many titles selling in the millions.
Dell Comics was best known for licensed material, particularly animated characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., MGM and the Walter Lantz Studios, such as the Lone Ranger, Tarzan, Howdy Doody, Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera characters. From 1939 to 1962, Dell's most prolific title was the anthology Four Color. Often published several times a month, the series had more than 1,300 issues published during in its 23-year history. It regularly served as a try-out title and thus became the launching pad for many long-running series.
Dell opted not to join the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers, which had been formed to pre-empt government intervention in the face of mounting public criticism of comic books, and not wanting their less controversial offerings to serve as an umbrella for other comic publishers, when the Comics Code Authority was formed later in 1954 in reaction to Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent, Dell again refused to join.
The end of Four Color in 1962 coincided with the ending of the business partnership with Western, which then took most of its licensed properties and original material and created its own imprint, Gold Key Comics. Dell Comics continued for another eleven years with licensed television and movie adaptations including Mission: Impossible, Ben Casey, Burke's Law, Doctor Kildare, Beach Blanket Bingo and a few original series. Dell Comics ceased publication in 1973, but the company continued with mainstream magazines only.
While Walt Kelly and Carl Barks are the most recognized talents associated with Dell, other writers and artists who worked there include Gaylord DuBois, Paul S. Newman, Don "Arr" Christensen, John Stanley, Alex Toth, Russ Manning, Alberto Giolitti, Dick Moores, Jack Bradbury, Dan Spiegle, Paul Norris, Frank Bolle, Art Saaf, Sam Glanzman and John Buscema.
Dell Comics stands out as the most "star studded" of all in the way of features, but you're correct in pointing out that they weren't just licensed properties being pimped out, they had on board a stellar ranking of writers and artists. They didn't all become famous in the comics realm, if only because they were working artists who put the integrity of the feature they were working on ahead of shining a light on themselves.
What a dreary history comics would have without Dell!
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